Zoloft (sertraline) is a commonly prescribed SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) generally considered safe and effective for treating symptoms related to depression and anxiety. However, long-term use (or misuse) of Zoloft can lead to dependence and possibly emotional addiction.
Zoloft works to stabilize the amount of serotonin in the brain, which is a neurochemical responsible for feelings of well-being and emotional regulation. Therefore, many people who have low levels of serotonin experience chronic depression and other mental health disorders. Zoloft blocks the brain’s neurons from absorbing serotonin. As a result, this biochemical is available to promote connections between neurons, thereby relieving conditions that develop from a serotonin shortage.
Zoloft is available by prescription only and is most often found in tablet form. In most instances, a person who uses the medication as directed will take it only once a day. Research has shown that Zoloft is both safe and effective, but it also has some potential for misuse, dependence, withdrawal, and overdose.
Zoloft Dependence, Addiction, and Withdrawal
Unlike many psychoactive substances, Zoloft is a medication intended to be used long-term, and as such, there is no inherent danger in using it for months, years, or indefinitely. However, it’s mind-altering effects can lead to dependence. When a person finds themselves unable to feel normal without using Zoloft, they have become physically dependent on the medication.
There is a debate about whether Zoloft has any real potential for addiction because it does not produce a “high,” nor is there evidence that those who take Zoloft ever report having cravings. Nevertheless, individuals who use the medication long-term and stop taking it can experience withdrawal symptoms. Rebound depression and anxiety are common, and those who are attempting to quit Zoloft are often reluctant to do so for this reason.
Symptoms of Zoloft Withdrawal
Zoloft withdrawal is a type of SSRI discontinuation syndrome. Because Zoloft has a relatively short half-life (the time it takes the body to reduce concentrations of a substance by 50%), when someone decides to stop using Zoloft, its effects will quickly subside. Moreover, if a person suddenly stops taking Zoloft, their serotonin levels will decline. This is why health providers often use a tapering schedule in which patients are weaned off by decreasing their dose until they discontinue use entirely.
The brain will eventually adapt to post-Zoloft serotonin levels, but in the meantime, the body may react adversely to lower amounts of serotonin in the central nervous system. Symptoms of SSRI discontinuation syndrome may persist for between 1-3 weeks. The severity of the symptoms will vary depending on how long a person has used Zoloft and at what dosage. In addition to an adverse effect on mood, other possible signs and symptoms of Zoloft withdrawal include the following:
- Loss of concentration
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sleep disturbances
- Suicidal ideations
- Tingling sensations
Side Effects and Risks of Zoloft
The side effects of Zoloft do not tend to be particularly long-lasting or life-threatening, but there are cases in which medication use can lead to concerning problems. The most common side effects of Zoloft include the following:
- Drowsiness and fatigue
- Lack of appetite
- Reduced libido
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain
Of note, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a “black box warning” for Zoloft—a notification about the dangerous potential effects of this drug. According to the FDA, Zoloft can induce or exacerbate suicidal ideations in children and young adults, and for this reason, it is not approved to treat symptoms in children.
Symptoms of Overdose
It is possible to overdose on Zoloft, which can occur when a person uses too much of the medication or in conjunction with other, more potent depressants or serotonin boosters. Although many symptoms of a Zoloft overdose may be quite unpleasant, this is not necessarily a life-threatening situation. In severe cases, however, overdose can lead to organ damage and death. Milder and more common symptoms of a Zoloft overdose include the following:
- Elevated heart rate
- Nausea and vomiting
When a person suffers from a severe Zoloft overdose, they may faint or experience hallucinations and delirium, and incur damage to the heart and pancreas. Furthermore, a Zoloft overdose can advance into serotonin syndrome, the body’s reaction to an excess of serotonin that can prove fatal.
Serotonin syndrome is relatively rare, but when it occurs, usually begins within one day of using too much of an SSRI and/or other drugs that boost serotonin. Serotonin syndrome is considered a medical emergency that can cause confusion, fever, shivering, muscle tightness, and potentially lethal seizures.
Getting Help for Zoloft Use Disorder
If you or someone you love has a problem with Zoloft use, dependence, or addiction, we urge you to contact Just Believe Recovery today to discuss treatment options. We offer modern, evidence-based programs that feature services and activities vital for the recovery process, including behavioral therapy, counseling, peer support groups, relapse prevention, aftercare planning, and much more.